Story inspired by the following prompt:  Main character breaks the fourth wall. Then it breaks back. Hard.

It’s been years since I made the wish. Since I saw the shooting star streaking across the sky, the night after twelve rejection letters came in the mail for my new novel. I still remember the words in those letters, so impersonally devoid of emotion that they stung.

Characters lack rationality, emotion. Unbelievable in their actions. Missing a human element.

So that night, I made my wish. As the star soared overhead, I whispered, and my voice was caught by the wind and whisked into the sky.

“I wish I could breathe life into my characters.”

I had not meant that wish literally, but that’s how fate interpreted it.

The next day I started a new novel, the words flowing from my pen like water from a river. New lines appeared before the ink dried, dialogue flowing back and forth like it never had before. In my mind I met my characters. Their personalities became as real as my own, their ticks and flaws so natural that they became closer than my actual friends. I knew them, and I loved them. Especially Jeremy, my main character, a hero worthy of any legend.

I wrote that novel in three months, faster than any other I had tried before. I turned in my first draft- even after thorough inspection, there were no errors I could detect.

Three weeks after sending the novel to my choice publisher, I received a call.

“May I speak with Curt Anderson?”

“Speaking.”

“Curt Anderson, we have reviewed your novel and fallen in love with it. Would you be interested in moving to the next step?” With those simple words, my lifelong dream came to fruition. In a year my novel reached the best seller list, and the publishing company began asking for a sequel.

Which is when the implications of my wish began.

The sequel poured out of me with faster speed than the first, and as I wrote, I felt Jeremy slipping out of his role as hero. He seemed to doubt himself, acting with indecision where he would once take action. Soon he began questioning the life around him, brooding, and became obsessed with a scratching noise that would keep him awake long hours into the night.

Until, one day, in the middle of dialogue with the villain, he broke character.

“I can hear your pen scratching, Curt. Why did you create me?”

I stopped writing, my pen dug into the page. Then I heard his voice in my mind, as vivid as on the page. “I’m not real, am I, Curt?”

“No.” I said, the words catching in my mouth.

“Then finish me off. There’s no reason for me to carry on.”

I wrote through the night, wrapping up the sequel. In a strange turn of events, Jeremy won the lottery, and spent the rest of his life in the caribbean. With a thick stroke, I scratched in “THE END” to the end of the page, and I felt his voice depart from my mind. After a year I started writing another novel, hoping that the first had been some strange trick of the mind. Maybe I should be looked at for a mental illness. But I did not feel crazy, so I kept writing.

Jasmine, my new character, caught on quicker than Jeremy. Nearly three quarters into the novel, she addressed me, asking me how I could have ever killed her mother in a car crash forty pages back. Without hesitation, I wrote in that Jasmine met the man of her dreams, they moved to the Bahamas, where she met her true mother because she had been adopted. Then I slammed the book shut, another “THE END” scratched into the final page.

The realization occurred in my next work. And the work after that. As my writing became more practiced, even minor characters started noticing that their lives were fake. Some committed suicide, some went crazy, but I saved as many as possible by writing in some turn of events that made their lives happier.

On my fifteenth book, I had not yet finished the first chapter, when my character addressed me by name. That day I was in a coffee shop, and I felt something snap in my brain.

Despite the score of people drinking around me, I pushed my chair back, stood, and yelled towards the ceiling.

“Why is the happening to me? How is this happening to me? Why did you put this into my life? Why did you write this into my life?”

The other customers stared at me, confused as I was by my outburst. Behind the counter, I saw the barista start dialing on a cell phone, and knew she was either calling for the police or her manager. I stormed out of the building and drove home, speeding along the way and considering ramming myself into a tree.

But two gentlemen waited for me in my front yard, holding a giant check.

“What’s this?” I asked, opening my door.

“Why it’s for you, Curt. You won a sweepstakes. Congratulations! Several million dollars worth, and a home in tropical paradise.”

“What sweepstakes?”

The man smiled, shook my hand, then leaned in to whisper in my ear.

“Mr. Jacobs says you deserve this. You don’t know him, but he knows you. He knows all of us in fact.” The man in the suit waved about him, gesturing at the world in general, “But he does have one stipulation- you will never write again. And he will never write about you again.” On the subject line of the check, there were only two words.

“THE END”